Motoring review: Citroën DS3 Cabrio DSport THP 155

Don't look back because you won't see much with the top down in Citroën's DS3

Price: £19,600 (range from £15,000)
Engine: 1,598cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbo, 156bhp
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 132mph, 0-62 in 8.2sec, 47.9mpg, CO2 137g/km

As sardine tins go, it's a very smart one. That is not to be rude about the Citroën DS3 Cabrio, merely to describe the way the soft top opens; moving rearwards along two rails above the doors, it ends up furled in a dense stack where the rear window would normally be. It really does look as though it has been peeled open.

You'll spot the immediate snag: with the roof fully opened, you can see in your rear-view mirror nothing lower than the top of a lorry's windscreen.

With the roof closed, the DS3 looks so similar to the regular hatchback version that you might almost feel cheated. Is it, then, a real cabrio? Or just a half-hearted one? That's a subjective matter – but Fiat has sold a lot of open-top 500Cs with an almost identical roof arrangement.

Besides, Citroën has a history of doing it this way, albeit not with such total rear-view blockage. The 2CV had a roll-back fabric roof, the Visa Cabriolet had a system much like the DS3's, albeit without electric power and glass for the rear window, and the C3 Pluriel went one better and let you remove the rails once the roof was open. The problem was that with the rails unclipped, the Pluriel went floppy – and if you parked on an uneven surface, you couldn't get the rails back in.

There's no such problem with the DS3, whose structure is virtually as stiff as the hatchback's and only 25kg heavier, 10kg of which is made up of weights under the boot floor designed to kill any potential vibrations. Of course the large boot of the regular hatchback is lost, but it's still much bigger than those of its 500C and Mini Convertible rivals. There is more rear-seat space, too, with room for three, provided they're good friends.

Back to the roof, which can be opened or closed with the DS3 travelling at up to 75mph. From fully closed to fully open takes 16 seconds with optional stops en route: open just above the front seats, open over the rear-side windows and folded in that view-blocking stack.

With the front windows open as well, you do get a fair sense of true-convertible atmospheric freedom, enough to convince yourself that the raciest DS3 Cabrio, with the 156bhp, 1.6-litre turbo engine, is a credible substitute for a sports car. Other engines include a non-turbo 1.6, a diesel and a little 1.2-litre, three-cylinder unit, but the 1.6 turbo is the one for maximum entertainment with its crisp exhaust note, muscular power delivery and easy, punchy pace. The suspension feels racily firm. It's good, agile fun and, with the roof closed, it's as snug and quiet as a hatchback.

New for the Cabrio, but soon to spread to the rest of the DS3 range, are "3D" tail lights in which the illuminating rectangle of red LEDs appears to be repeated almost to infinity in a tunnel seemingly extending far into the car. It's the sort of style flourish which appeals to buyers of DS-badged Citroëns, and the sub-brand is selling well as a piece of "premium" indulgence: DS models account for nearly a third of Citroën's UK sales, and 60 per cent of them are to people who haven't had a Citroën before.

The pleasing part here is that it shows how a relatively affordable car doesn't have to be German to be regarded as desirable and upmarket. It's interesting that the covetable cars which form the basis of the DS3 Cabrio's obvious rivals, the Fiat 500 and the Mini, aren't German either. Well, perhaps the Mini is… but there is no ambiguity with the other two. The new DS3 Cabrio is thoroughly French – and thoroughly likeable.